By EILEEN AJ CONNELLY -- AP Personal Finance Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The motivations may vary, but the goal is the same: to spread holiday cheer and have a positive impact at the same time by making donations to charity instead of wrapping up presents.
Toby Marie Walker traces her family's tradition of combining charitable donations and gift giving back to 1985, when her grandfather died. Instead of sending flowers, the family asked people to donate to the Salvation Army. When her grandmother passed away in 2004, the request was for funding for Parkinson's disease research.
Walker, a corporate trainer and consultant in Waco, Texas, again this year asked friends and family to give to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. A gift like that "has some sentimental value," she said.
Walker also sends donations on behalf of friends and relatives to other groups she thinks the recipients would support — donations she figured would reach about $500 this year.
For others like Paul Schenkenberg and his family, it comes down to being grateful they can share some of their good fortune. "We don't need any more stuff," the Minneapolis resident said. "We have two places full of stuff." So Schenkenberg, 55, and his wife, Diane, give to others instead of exchanging presents.
Among their efforts this year, they are sponsoring a family at their church, sending gifts to overseas children they sponsor and paying for a Christmas tree for a needy family. "We just see if we can make people's life a little easier," the communications engineer said, estimating he'd donate about $600 this season.
Their 27-year-old daughter, Leah Heino, inherited the viewpoint. "I live in a very small space. Unless you know I need it or I want it, I probably don't have a place to put it," she said. "If it's just about giving, why is it about giving to me?"
Donations to charities rise in the last few months of the year, reflecting both increased generosity during the holidays and efforts to pile up last-minute tax deductions.
GuideStar, a nonprofit based in Williamsburg, Va., that monitors and evaluates charities, recently surveyed representatives from more than 2,700 charitable organizations and 46 percent said they receive a majority of their donations in the last quarter.
For some it may be a first time, but a charitable contribution in someone else's name is not an uncommon gift. A survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults done for the nonprofit World Vision, which provides disaster relief and other assistance, found that 66 percent have given such a gift, with 44 percent doing so as a holiday present. And 24 percent said they had received a donation as a gift.
Still a lingering concern for some is how a charitable gift might be perceived. "Some people think it's really a thoughtless gift, but it takes some time to research the organizations," Walker said.